Obituaries are an announcement or notice of death, often with an account of
a person’s life. Basically it is a biographical sketch of one recently
deceased. This notice is most often printed in the local newspaper. The
person who writes obituaries is known as an Obituarist.
It is similar to a funeral notice, which is also published on the obituary
page. A funeral notice is a paid advertisement written by family members,
placed in the newspaper by the funeral home.
Obit- is the informal term for an obituary. But the term is also used to refer to a
ceremony performed in memory of a dead person on the anniversary of his death.
This is also known as a Memorium.
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• Writing obituaries
• Content of obituaries
• Premature obituaries
• Obituaries in particular publications
Because of the short time between the notification of a death and the next
publication deadline, most newspapers have one or more clerks who specialize in
typing such things as obituaries. Sometimes, this task is given to a cub reporter
(often to allow an editor to evaluate writing and copy reading skills), although today
many obituary clerks also have other duties (such as typing news releases and
Many newspaper affiliates (such as the A.P. ) have pre-written obituaries for
famous people who are still alive; these obituaries are updated when the well-
known person dies.
Content of obituaries
The content of obituaries varies, but (at least in American newspapers) usually
follow a similar format:
• The person's name, age, where he/she lived and death date and place.
Sometimes, the circumstances surrounding the death are publicized as well.
• Information about visitation (time, date and place when they can view the body
and visit with family members); the funeral, usually at a funeral home and/or
church; and often, the burial site. Sometimes, the names of pallbearers are also
• The descendant 's birth date (along with a maiden name if the descendant was a
female who married and took her husband's last name), his/her birth town and
his/her parents (often along with the mother's maiden name included).
• Marriage information (name of spouse, date and location of marriage). Previous
marriages, if any.
• Where the descendant was employed (and if he/she is now retired).
• Memberships, from social and religious to vocational.
• Hobbies, notable accomplishments and other interests, as appropriate.
• A listing of survivors, including spouse, children (and sometimes, their spouses),
grandchildren, siblings and other close relatives and friends.
• A listing of close relatives who preceded the decedent in death . Unless the
decedent is young or is survived by his/her mother or father, his/her parents are not
listed (especially when the decedent is very old, as it is assumed the parents are
While in the U.S. obituaries are almost always reverent and respectful, in Britain it
is far more permissible for the writer to attack or mock the subject. An example is
the Daily Telegraph's 2005 obituary of royal commentator Harold Brooks-Baker.
By definition, obituaries should always be posthumous. Occasionally premature
obituaries are published while the person concerned is still alive, either accidentally
or intentionally. Most of these are accidental and concern well known personalities
(such as Mark Twain and Bob Hope). Some others are published because of
miscommunication between newspapers, family members and the funeral home,
often resulting in embarrassment for everyone involved.
However, some people will seek to have an unsuspecting newspaper editor publish
a premature obituary out of malice, usually to gain revenge on someone or obtain a
financial settlement they believe they are entitled to. To that end, nearly all
newspapers now have policies requiring that death notices come from a reliable
source (such as a funeral home), though even this has not stopped some pranksters
such as Alan Abel.
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